By Larry Levine –
“In politics and government overnight is forever.”
That’s one of the adages I created through 50-plus years of campaign consulting and 10 years of political news reporting. I boldly claim the right to author adages based on the more than 200 election campaigns in my wake and the fact that my candidates and ballot measures have been the victors in 88 percent of those campaigns.
So, take those words now as a disclaimer. I’m about to give you my read on the Electoral College vote for this year’s Presidential Election. Call if a prediction if you want, but I don’t represent it as such. Predictions are vulnerable to the wisdom of the first line of this article and as I’m doing this in writing there are those who will be anxious to point out I was wrong if this goes badly astray.
By my analysis, I see the Biden-Harris ticket winning as many as 348 Electoral College votes. With 270 needed to win, that would be a landslide. I think 300 is a safe number if you are looking to make a bet and 333 is not at all out of reach. Here’s how we get to these numbers. First the math, then the imponderables.
Hillary Clinton won 20 states plus the District of Columbia, with 232 Electoral College votes. There is no credible reason why Biden-Harris should not be expected to win every one of those states, which have voted for the Democratic Party candidate in at least three consecutive Presidential elections. Those states and their Electoral votes are:
New York (29)
New Jersey (14)
New Mexico (5)
New Hampshire (4)
Rhode Island (4)
Some observers can figure out ways in which Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico may be at risk. I don’t buy any of that. I think they are stretching.
Trump won is six other states that Obama won twice.
A mixture of polling and political analysis make Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to varying degrees likely to go to Biden-Harris. If Biden-Harris win theses state their Electoral College vote total hits 333. There are some overarching factors at work in each of these states and we’ll get to that in a minute.
The biggest risk in Florida may be that the election could be stolen. It’s happened before and with Republicans in control of the political and election mechanisms it’s a real threat to happen again. There are 5.1 million registered Democrats and 4.8 million Republicans in Florida according to the latest reports from the state elections commission. There are an additional 3.6 million people registered with no party affiliation. In the past Florida Republicans have counted on support in the Cuban community. Trump’s alliances with foreign dictators could poison his appeal to older anti-Castro Cubans and younger voters could turn against him because of his position on health care and his mishandling of the pandemic. Biden’s long-time personal appeal among Jewish voters along with the potential impact of Harris’ Jewish husband could prove strong among the state’s sizable Jewish population.
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were Trump’s narrowest victories in 2016. In each of those states the turnout among African American voters in 2016 declined sharply from the Obama elections. Harris’ presence on the ticket plus a thorough disgust with Trump should revive a major chunk of those numbers. The Biden campaign knows the voter turnout situation and is well armed to deal with it.
Ohio may be the toughest sell among these states. While the rest of the nation was sweeping Democrats into control of the House of Representative, Ohio voters elected only Sen. Sherrod Brown statewide in 2018. Every other statewide office went to the Republicans. Yet, the state did go for Obama twice. The combined factors of Biden’s appeal in places where Clinton failed and the disenchantment with Trump keeps Ohio on the list of possibles.
Iowa is the biggest mystery of this group. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polling has Trump with a slim 1.7 percent edge. This is somewhat distorted by one poll that shows Biden up by more than 6 points. Trump got 51.7 percent of the votes in 2016 and defeated Clinton by 9.5 percent. Yet, Iowa has proved before (Obama twice) that it will vote for a Democrat as long as the Democrat isn’t Hillary Clinton and the Republican (Trump) looks like he’ll shake things up. Neither of those are present this year. In elections for statewide offices in 2018, each party won three of the six spots on the ballot.
Then there is North Carolina with 15 Electoral College votes, where Obama won the first time and lost the second time and where Trump won in 2016. If Biden-Harris can add this to the states Obama won twice their ceiling reaches 348 votes. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Trump up by 1 point. Democrats are the largest bloc on the voter registration roles with 2.5 million, or 36 percent of the total. Unaffiliated are next with 2.3 million, or 33 percent. Then come Republicans with 2.1 million, or 30 percent. 78 percent of the unaffiliated are under 44 years old. That Republicans recognize they could lose in North Carolina may be reflected in the extreme level of voter suppression activities aimed at the African American community.
If this were all there is to election analysis, we would not need campaigns. But the imponderables tend to get in the way of the data and results of past elections, imponderables like the fact that more people appear to have disliked Hillary Clinton than I ever will understand. For this go-round we have a few to consider.
TRUMP FATIGUE – Americans don’t like chaos and for the last four years we have had little else. There’s the hopscotch games he plays with policy positions, the incessant lying, the name calling, the false claims of success, and so much more.
COVID-19 – Poll numbers show the nation has no faith in Trump’s leadership in dealing with the pandemic or his truthfulness about the pandemic. His false claims have made him look foolish. He called it a hoax and now hundreds of thousands of families are grieving.
THE ECONOMY – No President in history has seen more jobs lost. His lack of leadership left millions of unemployed workers and small business owners out to dry. Is your 401K or SEP worth today what it was four years ago?
AND THEN – the way Trump has cozied up to foreign dictators, moved to defund Social Security, turned over high-level staff, attempted to bribe foreign governments, stripped away environmental and consumer protections, denied global warming, the left over charges of sexual misconduct, the blatant appeals to racism and a litany of other things that have produced a 54 percent negative rating of the job he has done.
These things are indelibly etched into the public perception of Donald Trump. They are things voters “know” about him that cannot be erased.
Finally, what do we mean by “overnight is forever?” It’s the fear that that haunts every veteran political consultant, the things he or she cannot anticipate or control. Will my candidate say or do something stupid? Will some issue of public policy jump up and nip us – an economic disaster or unexpected recovery, an international crisis? Will something in my candidate’s background surface, or be created out of whole cloth by the opposition and throw us on the defensive? Will some foreign nation launch and attack on our homeland? Will our candidate climb into a tank wearing a funny hat?
Imagine the unimaginable and it could happen overnight. And if it does, all the numbers, all the polls, all the analysis of past election results suddenly become meaningless. But until that happens, I’m sticking to 348 Electoral votes as the Biden-Harris ceiling, to 333 as not beyond possibility, and somewhere between 300 and 330 as a restrained forecast. If I were to borrow from the world of sports betting, I’d set the over-under on Biden-Harris right now at 300 and adjust it based on the action that number draws.